While out to dinner recently with friends, I stepped up on my soapbox as we nibbled on a cheese plate of tangy goat cheese and creamy blue. I bragged about the great local cheeses you can buy in Columbus, talking up a nutty gruyere from Laurel Valley Creamery and an award-winning goat-milk gouda from Turkeyfoot Creek Creamery.

While out to dinner recently with friends, I stepped up on my soapbox as we nibbled on a cheese plate of tangy goat cheese and creamy blue. I bragged about the great local cheeses you can buy in Columbus, talking up a nutty gruyere from Laurel Valley Creamery and an award-winning goat-milk gouda from Turkeyfoot Creek Creamery.

But when I called them artisan producers, my friend interjected. “Does artisan actually have a meaning anymore?” he asked. It was a fair question, and one that gave me pause. At the risk of diluting a perhaps exhausted topic, I answered simply, “Yes.”

I just spent the last month at local dairy farms all over Central Ohio. I met the people—more accurately, oftentimes, the one person—at each creamery who spend hours each day culturing and pressing raw-milk cheeses into molds. And even more hours lovingly rubbing wheels of aging cheddar and gruyere with salt to help set the rind, then brushing off the growing exterior mold as they age. This is what I picture every time I see the criss-crossed brush strokes on the rind of Kokoborrego’s Headwaters Tomme.

When I asked Ben Baldwin, the cheese maker at this Mount Gilead farm, whether there was anything he really wanted readers to know about what they are doing, he said he hoped the story would relate the intimacy of the industry. “Definitely let people know what a small thing this is,” said Baldwin, the lone paid employee at Kokoborrego.

Other cheese makers mirrored the sentiment, adding this isn’t an industry they got into to make money. It’s a passion.

This was the root of my brief affirmation that artisan does still have meaning, even if it’s become a broad term that lumps together anything handmade in small quantities. Artisan is also the term the Ohio Department of Agriculture uses to describe these small-scale creameries turning out less than 10,000 pounds of cheese each year (it’s a small sum when compared to bigger cheese conglomerates that turn out thousands of pounds a day). It’s also the fraction of the Ohio cheese industry that’s growing the fastest, as talented cheese makers bring their clever creations, made from cow, sheep and goat milk, to market.

Ohio creameries are catching the attention not just of local chefs (though there are plenty of ways to enjoy cheeses at restaurants in Columbus), but of experts in the industry outside of the state. Ohio cheeses are winning national awards.

The growing clout of the Ohio cheese industry is what inspired us to focus this year’s Farm to Plate cover story on a few local creameries spearheading the cheese movement (see “Creating a Cheese Culture,” page 104). It’s a group of talented and passionate people who are putting true meaning back into the word artisan.

Happy Eating,

Beth Stallings, Editor